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Regional News

November 22, 2006
Guyana Suriname Border Dispute
Starbroek News

Guyana's legal team is prepared for oral pleadings in the maritime border dispute between Guyana and Suriname, which starts in Washington on December 7 before the UN International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Meanwhile, Cabinet is still to pronounce on the representatives from Guyana who would attend the hearings.

Guyana and Suriname's legal teams would begin to present their cases orally before the tribunal which would be accommodated at the Organisation of American States (OAS) headquarters in Washington, DC.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rudy Insanally told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that Guy-ana's legal team was prepared. "Our preparations are well advanced. We are ready," he said.

Insanally said the legal team, which is headed by former minister of foreign affairs and Co-agent Sir Shridath Ramphal and Co-agent Paul Reichler of Foley Hoag, and includes Professor Philippe Sands QC, and Andrew Loewenstein also of Foley Hoag, has assured the government that it is prepared and is consulting with its Surinamese colleagues to ensure that arrangements are in place.

The Surinamese newspaper de Ware Tijd on November 15 reported that Suriname has decided to send two representatives from the coalition government and one opposition representative but the opposition would not send anyone.

According to the Surina-mese newspaper, the decision not to send any opposition representative was taken independently by the three opposition factions.

The newspaper said the opposition factions agreed that they would just be filling a chair in Washington DC as they would not be able to contribute to the case or influence the outcome.

Stabroek News understands that the government representatives are going to Washington to see for themselves how the proceedings develop since Parliament is of the opinion that they should be present to be better informed.

This newspaper was told that the opposition was angry that in the process of preparing Suriname's case it was not involved and especially furious that the incumbent government did not consult with former president Jules Wijdenbosch in seeking a solution to the problem that erupted after a Surinamese military gunboat forcibly evicted a CGX rig from Guyana's waters in June 2000.

The proceedings would not be open to the public and Stabroek News understands that those who would be invited to attend as representatives of their countries to observe the proceedings would be bound by the rules of procedure agreed to between the parties.

It is expected that the oral presentations would cover a two to three-week period and the ruling would be delivered next year. The ruling would be in two parts, first, whether the tribunal has jurisdiction to decide on the merits of the dispute, and then the award. Guyana's legal team expects the award to be issued and made public by the tribunal within a maximum of six to eight months after the close of the hearings, which means that it could be within the first half of 2007.

In February 2004, Guyana initiated arbitral proceedings against Suriname under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Guyana invoked the proceedings in order to settle once and for all with Suriname the question of the maritime boundary. Guyana had tried in vain to reach agreement with Suriname on joint exploration and exploitation arrangements. After proceedings to peacefully settle the dispute failed, Guyana invoked the provisions of Article 287 of the convention to obtain a legal, binding settlement of its maritime border dispute with the neighbouring country and presented a memorial (legal text). Since then Suriname replied with a counter-memorial followed subsequently by a reply from Guyana and finally by a rejoinder from Suriname in September this year.

Accordingly, the tribunal is to decide whether it has jurisdiction to determine the merits of the Guyana/Suriname maritime boundary dispute and would draw a boundary in the sea that is consistent with Guyana's request for equitable delimitation of the boundary between the two states; that the dispute would be resolved for all times in a friendly manner consistent with international law; and that the decision would thereafter be respected.

Assuming that it has jurisdiction, the tribunal would issue the award which would essentially consist of a boundary line from the point of the coast where the sea meets the land for a distance of 200 miles.

The award would be binding on both states and it would constitute the internationally recognized maritime boundary between Guyana and Suriname which would have the consequences of committing Guyana and Suriname to exploit the resources on each side that may lie within the sea or under the sea. (Miranda La Rose)

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